November 28, 2012

Hobart, St. Thomas use similar formula

More news about: Hobart | St. Thomas
St. Thomas has been banged up on offense but its defense has led the way.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com 

By Andrew Lovell
D3sports.com

The similarities are striking, and yet, so too are the differences.

No. 7 Hobart and No. 4 St. Thomas both implement a run-first, I-back offense ranking in the top 25 in the country. Both teams boast stout defenses that rank in the top 15 nationally in yards allowed. And both enter Saturday's NCAA third-round matchup with identical 12-0 records.

But don't be fooled -- the home-field and experience advantages lie squarely with St. Thomas. The Tommies are 32-2 over the past five seasons at O'Shaughnessy Stadium, the site of Saturday's game. Over the past four seasons, St. Thomas is 47-4 overall. Saturday will also mark the team's 13th playoff game in the past four seasons.

By comparison, Hobart will be playing in just its fourth playoff game over that span. The Statesmen have never traveled to Minnesota for a game. The caliber of opponent -- St. Thomas has won the last three conference titles in the MIAC, considered one of the elite leagues in Division III football -- is unlike anything Hobart has seen, particularly in a down season for the Liberty League this year.

"Honestly, I think their offense is very, very good," Hobart coach Mike Cragg said, "but I think their defense is even better. They are big, they are strong and they swarm like crazy. It'll be tough for our offense."

Hobart has defeated Washington and Lee and Wittenberg, respectively, in the first two rounds of the playoffs by a combined score of 73-30. The Statesmen haven't changed their blueprint -- they still pound the ball on offense and shut down the run on defense. It's worked all season, and the playoffs have been no different.

St. Thomas, on the other hand, got a stiff test from Elmhurst in the second round after dispatching St. Norbert with relative ease in the opening round. The Bluejays jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter before the Tommies rallied for the 24-17 win.

"There have been games where we come out and we're up 49-0 at halftime and that's great," Caruso said. "But there's games where we come out like Saturday and [we're down] 14-0 and our guys don't panic."

Caruso calls his team "dynamic," but not because of athletic playmakers or big-time victories (of which the Tommies have plenty of both). Rather, it's his team's ability to win games in any and every fashion that drives Caruso to use the "dynamic" label.

When Caruso took over in 2008, he inherited a team that had won 12 games total from 2005 to 2007, a win total the team has reached in each of the past three seasons. The turnaround was swift and, Caruso insists, unplanned.

"The intention was not to turn this program [around] quickly, it was to do so on a strong foundation," Caruso said. "The fact that it did turn so quickly I think is less a function of who the coach is and more a function of the type of player that we get."

Make no mistake, the Tommies get superb players -- sophomore quarterback Matt O'Connell, junior defensive lineman Riley Dombek and senior defensive lineman Ayo Idowu are just a few that immediately come to mind -- but it's the attitude Caruso and his staff instill in these talented players that helps them become "dynamic."

"We say quite often that we win some games because of our arms and our legs, but we win far more because of our minds and our hearts, and I believe that's true," Caruso said.

Just a sophomore, Hobart defensive end Tyre Coleman has 48 and a half career tackles for loss and 29 and a half sacks.
Hobart athletics photo 

Hobart, as similar as it may seem to St. Thomas, is not yet on the same level.

"I would love to sit here and say 'yes' and 'we're there,' but when it's your first time there, it's so hard to be able to say," Cragg said. "After this game, if we're able to win this, then I would say that maybe we truly can compete with all those great teams, those top three or four or five teams in Division III."

Cragg, of course, means teams such as Mount Union, UW-Whitewater (this season notwithstanding), Mary Hardin-Baylor, Linfield and St. Thomas. Teams that, year in and year out, make deep runs in the playoffs. Could the Statesmen be on the cusp of joining that group? Of course. But no one will know for sure until about 2015. One great season does not make a powerhouse.

A win against St. Thomas would stand as a pivotal turning point and program-defining moment. For it to become a reality, the Statesmen will have to control the game on the ground. Hobart's rushing attack is led by junior Steven Webb (1,094 yards, 11 TDs) and senior Bobby Dougherty (985 yards, 19 TDs), but the unsung heroes have been the offensive linemen.

What was once an area of concern -- Hobart returned just one of its top seven linemen from last season in senior left guard Art Garvey -- has steadily become an area of strength over the course of the season. But this group will get its toughest test Saturday when it faces off against what Cragg called the best front seven the team has seen all year.

Idowu and Dombek are dominant players up front on the line, while junior outside linebackers Tremayn Williams and Harry Pitera routinely make plays off the edge. The Tommies feature a 30-stack defense with twists up front and zone-based coverage in the secondary. The Statesmen generally employ a base 4-4 defense.

Hobart's defense, led by sophomore defensive end Tyre Coleman and junior linebacker Devin Worthington, will have its hands full against St. Thomas' run-oriented attack. Freshman Brenton Braddock (914 yards, 12 TDs) is the team's top rusher, but the Tommies have six other players with at least 100 yards rushing, including O'Connell (719 yards). O'Connell is just as dangerous with his feet as he is with his arm, and can do damage on naked bootlegs, keepers and sweeps.

Hobart senior quarterback Nick Strang could be the wild card that decides the outcome of the game. If St. Thomas has success in slowing down Webb and Dougherty, Strang would likely have to step up in the passing game. Strang has been consistent all season, but has rarely been called on to win games on his own.

St. Thomas enters the game as the favorite. Hobart, after all, faces the unfamiliar challenge of flying and organizing hotel rooms, meals, practice time, etc. But good, fundamental football usually travels well. The Statesmen deserve this shot.

"To play football in December, you know some good things have happened for you," Cragg said.

Caruso has his own way looking at things. To him, it's about the process, not the results. And so far, the process is getting results.

"I understand that we don't control winning and losing, and I understand that there's a lot of Type-A personalities in coaching that think I'm crazy," Caruso said. "I firmly believe that we control how hard we work, how long we work for and how tightly we stay together. The wins and whatever that comes is simply a byproduct of that. We don't even talk about [a national title], we just talk about putting in the work. And you know what? It seems to be serving us pretty well."

comments powered by Disqus
Sep. 4: All times Eastern
8:00 PM
East Texas Baptist at Tex. A&M-Commerce
Sep. 5: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Anna Maria at Worcester State
7:00 PM
Western New England at Springfield
7:00 PM
Albright at Kean
7:00 PM
Widener at Rowan
7:00 PM
WPI at Curry
7:00 PM
Mass-Dartmouth at Mount Ida
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Salve Regina at Bridgewater State
7:00 PM
William Paterson at SUNY-Maritime
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Ursinus at TCNJ
7:00 PM
Fitchburg State at Becker
7:00 PM
Nichols at Westfield State
Video
7:30 PM
McDaniel at Catholic
7:30 PM
Trine at Manchester
Live Stats Video Audio
8:00 PM
Waldorf at UW-Whitewater
Live Stats
Sep. 6: All times Eastern
12:00 PM
Endicott at Framingham State
12:00 PM
Dickinson at Hobart
Live Stats
12:00 PM
Holland College (PEI, Canada) at Maine Maritime
Video
12:00 PM
Otterbein at St. John Fisher
12:00 PM
Union at Ithaca
12:00 PM
Pomona-Pitzer at MIT
12:00 PM
Husson at Alfred
12:00 PM
Randolph-Macon at Johns Hopkins
1:00 PM
St. Lawrence at Coast Guard
1:00 PM
Thomas More at Wesley
Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Plymouth State at Castleton State
1:00 PM
Lebanon Valley at Franklin and Marshall
1:00 PM
Emory and Henry at Ferrum
Audio
1:00 PM
Washington and Lee at Averett
Live Stats
1:00 PM
Hampden-Sydney at Wabash
Live Stats Video Audio
1:00 PM
Rose-Hulman at Kalamazoo
Live Stats Video
1:00 PM
Wilmington at Olivet
1:00 PM
Adrian at Defiance
1:00 PM
King's at Moravian
1:00 PM
Alfred State at Morrisville State
1:00 PM
Susquehanna at Lycoming
1:00 PM
Oberlin at Brockport State
1:00 PM
Utica at Misericordia
1:00 PM
Delaware Valley at Montclair State
1:00 PM
Southern Virginia at Methodist
1:00 PM
Ohio Wesleyan at Bluffton
1:00 PM
Marietta at Kenyon
1:00 PM
Merchant Marine at Apprentice
1:00 PM
Cortland State at Buffalo State
Audio
1:00 PM
Muhlenberg at Wilkes
1:00 PM
Sewanee at DePauw
1:30 PM
RPI at Norwich
1:30 PM
Alma at Heidelberg
1:30 PM
Berry at Maryville (Tenn.)
1:30 PM
Bridgewater (Va.) at Gettysburg
1:30 PM
Muskingum at Waynesburg
1:30 PM
St. Vincent at John Carroll
1:30 PM
Mount Union at Bethany
1:30 PM
Juniata at Grove City
Audio
2:00 PM
Franklin at Illinois Wesleyan
2:00 PM
Rhodes at Austin
2:00 PM
Carleton at Macalester
2:00 PM
UW-Platteville at Buena Vista
2:00 PM
Ohio Northern at Washington U.
Live Stats Video
2:00 PM
UW-River Falls at St. John's
2:00 PM
Crown at Gustavus Adolphus
2:00 PM
Concordia-Moorhead at Jamestown
2:00 PM
Simpson at Iowa Wesleyan
2:00 PM
Hope at Monmouth
Audio
2:00 PM
Lawrence at Rockford
2:00 PM
Aurora at Illinois College
2:00 PM
Carroll at Lakeland
2:00 PM
Elmhurst at Loras
2:00 PM
Millikin at Greenville
2:00 PM
Coe at Wheaton (Ill.)
2:00 PM
Presentation at Luther
2:00 PM
Martin Luther at Maranatha Baptist
2:00 PM
MacMurray at Culver-Stockton
2:00 PM
Eureka at Knox
2:00 PM
UW-Stout at Dakota Wesleyan
2:00 PM
Huntingdon at Louisiana College
Video
2:00 PM
Ripon at St. Scholastica
2:00 PM
Hendrix at Westminster (Mo.)
2:10 PM
UW-Eau Claire at St. Thomas
3:00 PM
St. Norbert at Carthage
4:00 PM
Claremont-Mudd-Scripps at Puget Sound
4:00 PM
Lewis and Clark at Whitworth
4:00 PM
College of Idaho at Pacific
4:30 PM
Arizona Christian at George Fox
5:00 PM
Hartwick at Western Connecticut
6:00 PM
Salisbury at Christopher Newport
6:00 PM
Augustana at Mount St. Joseph
7:00 PM
Carnegie Mellon at Case Western Reserve
Live Stats Video
7:00 PM
Stevenson at N.C. Wesleyan
7:00 PM
Butler at Wittenberg
Live Stats Video
7:00 PM
Shenandoah at Gallaudet
Audio
7:00 PM
Wooster at Washington and Jefferson
7:00 PM
Greensboro at Guilford
7:00 PM
Geneva at Frostburg State
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Thiel at Allegheny
7:00 PM
Taylor (Ind.) at Anderson
7:00 PM
Hiram at Westminster (Pa.)
7:00 PM
Denison at Earlham
7:00 PM
Albion at UW-Stevens Point
7:00 PM
Concordia (Wis.) at North Park
7:00 PM
Beloit at Chicago
Live Stats
7:00 PM
LaGrange at Birmingham-Southern
7:00 PM
Howard Payne at Trinity (Texas)
7:00 PM
Mary Hardin-Baylor at Millsaps
7:00 PM
Sul Ross State at Texas Lutheran
7:00 PM
Robert Morris-Chicago at UW-Oshkosh
7:00 PM
UW-La Crosse at Dubuque
7:30 PM
Hanover at Centre
7:30 PM
Central at Benedictine
8:00 PM
St. Olaf at Northwestern (Minn.)
8:00 PM
Hamline at Minnesota-Morris
8:00 PM
Lake Forest at Wisconsin Lutheran
8:00 PM
Wartburg at Augsburg
Audio
8:00 PM
Hardin-Simmons at Southwestern
Dec. 20: All times Eastern
Final
at UW-Whitewater 52, Mount Union 14
@ Salem Stadium; Salem, Va.
Box Score Recap Photos Photos
Dec. 14: All times Eastern
Final
UW-Whitewater 16, at Mary Hardin-Baylor 15
Box Score Recap Recap Photos
Final
at Mount Union 41, North Central (Ill.) 40
Box Score Recap Recap Photos

What We're Reading